Pro-con: Does Sebelius leave a positive legacy?

sebeliuslaughingImplementing Obamacare was never going to be easy. And Kathleen Sebelius never had the kind of control a chief executive officer would. She was always dealing with a host of other players. And that’s to say nothing of her war with the congressional Republicans, who were trying actively to sabotage the law through repeal votes, funding cuts, and intimidation of would-be allies. More important, the law seems to be working, despite all of the early problems. Of course, Sebelius can’t take all or even most of the credit for the Affordable Care Act’s improved performance, any more than she should take all or most of the blame for the law’s troubles. Any accounting of her tenure must include such achievements (and others, like improvements to Head Start and stronger regulations on child care safety). To take one obvious example, Sebelius worked extensively with Republican governors who wanted to expand Medicaid in states with hostile conservative constituencies. The memories of Obamacare’s difficult start will certainly linger. But to the millions of people around the country who now have access to affordable medical care, I’m not sure that really matters. – Jonathan Cohn, the New Republic

It’s been quite a year for the former Kansas governor. October brought the failed launch of the HealthCare.gov website, which Sebelius initially characterized as simply the result of surging consumer demand for Obamacare and a “great problem to have.” December brought more embarrassing news as Sebelius waived the law’s individual mandate to buy insurance by categorizing Obamacare itself as a hardship worthy of exemption. This was just one of many on-the-fly rewrites the administration claimed the authority to make under a law passed by Congress and signed by the president. Though she is leaving now, her legacy is secure, as her name adorns several of the most consequential federal cases resulting from the law. Her resignation doesn’t change the fact that Democrats will remain politically accountable for a law sold on a fraudulent promise from President Obama. But this latest news does mean that not even the secretary of health and human services will get to keep her insurance plan. – James Freeman, Wall Street Journal

Reid keeping up criticism of Koch brothers

reidharrySenate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is keeping up his onslaught against the Koch brothers. This week he noted how Koch Industries benefited from a temporary provision of the Affordable Care Act while groups backed by the brothers have been attacking members of Congress who supported the ACA. “If the Affordable Care Act is so awful,” Reid asked, “why did Koch Industries use it to their advantage?” According to federal records, Koch Industries received $1.4 million to subsidize its costs for workers who retire before they become eligible for Medicare. Reid also suggested that GOP senators start wearing ties and jackets with the Koch Industries logo, like the patches on NASCAR uniforms. But even some Democrats are tiring of Reid’s tirades. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., complained that “this type of rhetoric does not help us move this country or move the agenda forward.”

Open thread (April 11)

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Now even harder for GOP to repeal Obamacare

healthcaregovpageThe more than 7 million Americans who signed up for Obamacare (along with millions more who gained insurance through their parents or through expanded Medicaid) make “it highly unlikely that Republicans will be able to deliver on their promise to repeal the law,” columnist Doyle McManus wrote. It would be very hard to take insurance away from that many people. But, McManus wrote, “that doesn’t mean Obamacare is guaranteed to succeed. The program still faces a series of difficult tests – most important, keeping costs under control so insurance premiums don’t soar in coming years.”

Pompeo convinced that GM foods are safe, needed

food“The science is clear” that genetically modified foods are safe, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, told The Eagle editorial board. Pompeo introduced a bill this week that would require that new GM foods be reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; currently, such review isn’t mandated. The bill also would give the FDA sole authority on whether to label GM foods – barring states from imposing their own regulations. Supporters of labeling argue that it informs consumers, but Pompeo contends that a patchwork of unscientific state regulations creates burdens and barriers for Kansas farmers. “It’s a big deal to our growers,” Pompeo said.

Welcome to the skies, Learjet 85

learjet85aCongratulations to all those in Wichita and worldwide whose skill and hard work readied Bombardier Aerospace’s Learjet 85 for takeoff Wednesday from Mid-Continent Airport. It took 6 1/2 years for the midsize business jet to go from announcement to first flight, during a period that included a brutal recession. But the successful test further affirms that Wichita’s status as Air Capital of the World is a thing of the future, not just the past. Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement also offering congratulations: “Many thanks to the Learjet 85 team for its hard work in accomplishing this significant milestone in the program and Bombardier for its continued investment in Wichita.”

Open thread (April 10)

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Governance switch helped make airport name change possible

midcontinentAs the Wichita City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to finalize the renaming of Mid-Continent Airport as the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, it did so over the objections of the airport advisory board, which voted 10-1 Monday to oppose the change. That remarkable fact – that the citizen board assigned to advise the city on airport matters disagreed with such a historic decision yet was powerless to stop it – was made possible by the City Council’s 1999 decision to replace what had been a governing Wichita Airport Authority with an advisory board. Then-Mayor Bob Knight advocated the controversial change, saying the authority board was too focused on replacing then-airports director Bailis Bell and wasn’t doing enough to bring low-fare service to Wichita. Dave Bayouth, an advisory board member who again urged against the name change Tuesday, also sat on the autonomous authority board and criticized its dissolution, saying in 1999 that “the public does not want more government running anything.”

More polling problems for Brownback

brownbackofficialmugAnother Public Policy Polling survey has found Gov. Sam Brownback lagging Democratic challenger Paul Davis. In the firm’s April 1-2 poll of 886 Kansas voters (52 percent Republicans and 30 percent Democrats), 45 percent said they would vote for Davis, a Lawrence attorney who is the House minority leader, if the gubernatorial election were held today; 41 percent favored Brownback and 14 percent weren’t sure. Fifty-two percent said Kansas should accept the new federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage, and 41 percent said Brownback’s opposition to expansion would make them less likely to vote for him. In a February survey by the same North Carolina-based firm, Davis led Brownback 42 to 40 percent. The latest PPP survey was funded by the liberal group MoveOn.org, and a Brownback campaign spokesman dismissed the results.

Open thread (April 9)

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Shame on Legislature for undermining teachers’ rights

teacherShame on the GOP leaders of the Kansas Legislature for using a Kansas Supreme Court order on school-funding inequities as an excuse to undermine teachers’ rights and meddle in education policymaking. As our Tuesday editorial asked: Where was the love for schools as the Legislature voted to strip teachers of their due-process rights, subsidize private education with a corporate income-tax credit, and pass unproven ideological reforms while trampling on the policymaking responsibilities of the Kansas State Board of Education?

Nonprofit plan for NBC World Series looks promising

nbctourneyThe city of Wichita seems to be moving the National Baseball Congress World Series toward a secure future via the nonprofit NBC Baseball Foundation. There is even talk of trying to get a TV deal for Championship Week, which would be great for the players, teams and city. In any case, the tournament will need an engaged, hardworking board and a lot of help from community donors, sponsors and volunteers. But the NBC World Series’ rich history is wedded to that of the city and Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The plan also should be better for the Wichita Wingnuts, which had been overseeing the NBC.

Reid wrong to call Kochs ‘un-American’

reidharry“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., broke down all barriers to protocol recently when he called the Kochs ‘un-American,’” columnist Kathleen Parker wrote. She acknowledged that “allowing the super-wealthy to disproportionately influence political outcomes may indeed be bad for the democratic process – and that’s of legitimate concern to all. But one’s eyes should be wide open when people are singled out as un-American.” Parker’s conclusion: “Reid owes the Kochs – and the American people – an apology.”

Open thread (April 8)

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Kansas gets costs, not benefits, of expanded Medicaid

healthcaregovOne of the projected costs of expanding Medicaid is the “woodwork effect.” It refers to people already eligible for Medicaid who come “out of the woodwork” as they learn about the program. But this effect happens even in states such as Kansas that refuse to expand Medicaid, because of all the publicity about the Affordable Care Act. Kansas’ enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program increased to 415,284 in February, up more than 17,000, or 4.3 percent, from monthly averages before the launch of the ACA insurance marketplace. So Kansas’ costs are increasing, but it isn’t receiving the financial benefit of expanding Medicaid.

Butler Co. lawmakers backed effort to burn teachers

candidateIn a commentary headlined “Teachers get burned while Masterson gets a tan,” Kent Bush, publisher of the Butler County Times-Gazette, blasted area lawmakers for revoking due-process rights of public schoolteachers and for being puppets of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. He particularly called out Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who led the Senate negotiations before leaving for a family vacation. Bush described Masterson as a nice guy away from the state Senate. “But if you want someone to determine education policy, I can’t think of many people who would be worse,” Bush wrote. “Masterson has never made it a secret that he holds public schools in low regard – seeing them as ineffective and inefficient.”

Open thread (April 7)

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Rhoades blames House education bill on ‘election year’

candidateRep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, is saying a bit more about his resignation last week as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He wrote in a blog post that he could only support adding significant funding to equalize school aid, as ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court, if it was tied to reforms aimed at improving education outcomes. But House leadership rejected several reforms in his initial bill, and he said “it was clear there was little appetite for allowing changes to the bill in committee.” Why didn’t the House bill include measurable education outcomes? “Because it’s an election year,” Rhoades wrote. Another possibility is that schools already are overloaded with educational measurements. The bill was supposed to fix an unconstitutional funding problem, not be a tool for ideological mandates.

Kansas delegation stands out for youth

CapitolBuildingThe Washington Post’s Wonkblog found that “Congress is actually getting younger,” and that Kansas’ delegation is the youngest of them all – an average 45.8. That is thanks in large part to 38-year-old Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, are both 50. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, is 45. (Wonkblog excluded states with House delegations of one.) “We normally associate youthful dynamism with coastal metropolitan areas, but as far as the House is concerned that energy seems to be coming from the heartland,” the blog noted. The age of Kansas’ two senators averages out to 68.

Open thread (April 6)

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Moran read Koch’s commentary into congressional record

morannew“The fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation’s own government. That’s why, if we want to restore a free society and create greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans, we have no choice but to fight for those principles,” wrote Koch Industries chairman Charles Koch in a Wall Street Journal commentary last week. His explanation of his free-market beliefs and political involvement was read into the congressional record by Sen. Jerry Moran (in photo), R-Kan. “In Kansas, there’s a company called Koch Industries that is a component of our state, its economy, and many, several thousand, Kansans work there. And unfortunately in the political discourse of our country, Koch Industries, its owners, are often subject to attack,” Moran said. According to the Washington Post, the political network backed by the Koch brothers raised at least $407 million for the 2012 elections, and their ongoing spending has inspired criticism by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on the Senate floor, including his contention that Republicans are “addicted to Koch.”

Citizens expect nothing less than ‘safe and secure’ jail

countyjailTo his credit, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter emphasized last week that his “office has a zero tolerance policy against sexual assault and harassment of inmates” and is dedicated to operating a “safe and secure” Sedgwick County Jail. Citizens expect nothing less. It will be up to Easter and his team to ensure that the track record at the jail improves. The community has reasons for concern, including the charges against a former sheriff’s deputy of multiple counts of unlawful sexual relations at the jail and the reported incidents since 2013 of sexual assaults, harassment and misconduct involving inmates. Adding about 250 video cameras at the jail should be an asset in deterring and investigating such cases.

So they said

“Representative, this isn’t on the topic of the bill.” – House Speaker Ray Merrickmerrick_ray (in photo), R-Stilwell, interrupting as Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, brought abortion into the debate on a bill to bar another Sedgwick County gambling vote until 2032 (to which Garber said, “Pardon?”)

“Secretary Sebelius why is #unpopularity of ObamaScare so #shocking to you?” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, tweeting a link to an article saying HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was “speechless” when asked about the ACA’s poor polling

“@CongHuelskamp You do recognize you are a member of Congress? Might want to actually start acting like it. ‘ObamaScare’? What are you, 5?” – David Badash, editor of the online journal the New Civil Rights Movement, responding to Huelskamp on Twitter

“Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) hit the first three-pointer of the night.” – Washington Post article on a charity basketball game in which the Hill’s Angels (members of Congress and staffers) defeated the Hoya Lawyers (Georgetown Law School faculty) 46-40

Open thread (April 5)

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Bill banning slots vote was unnecessary, overkill

slotsThe Kansas House wisely rejected a Senate bill Friday that would prohibit Sedgwick County from holding another vote on gambling until 2032. The bill was unnecessary and overkill, as the Legislature already controls whether county residents can revote on allowing slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park. There is no need to ban another vote for 18 years. The bill also sends the message that lawmakers don’t care what locals think, now or in the future.